Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A review I like!

19 April 2018

AMAZON UK £1.20 £8.99
AMAZON US $1.66 $14.53

Fictional saga
1500s Tudor

Jen Black’s novels are a delight to read, not merely because of the enjoyment of ‘romance’ but because she is adept at diversifying from one period to another with apparent ease. This one is set in that troubling Tudor era where England and Scotland do not see eye-to-eye. Here, the future Mary Queen of Scots has her life mapped out by her mother, Mary of Guise and the English monarch, Henry VIII. But not all maps are reliable or pre-ordained, nor do the map-makers necessarily agree with each others’ marks on the charts they hope to produce.

The Queen’s Courier is a sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen, where Matho Spirston had kidnapped Mary, an infant, and given her into the care of Margaret Douglas - Meg - the daughter of the Earl of Angus and Henry VIII’s sister, with Meg then being blamed for the deed. But it is not necessary to read this first novel (although I would recommend it!)  

Matthew, Earl of Lennox, champions Meg but he is greedy for power, and as the niece to the English King, Meg herself  is obliged to retain her virginity and follow the King’s permission for marriage. As for the future Mary Queen of Scots, Henry wants her as wife to his son, Edward. Her mother has different plans.

The author, in addition to being able to write delightful novels, is skilled at taking the reader right into the feel of time and place, by painting visual pictures within her narrative. Her research is well done, as is her depiction of the unsettled politics of the period, with all the upheaval of war, intrigue, scandal, plot after counter-plot and the dangers of being an appointed spy where messages had to be taken in utmost secrecy between Scotland, London and France.

Jen Black’s characters are believable, the diplomacy, the scheming, the hopes, dreams, nightmares and dangers all zip along at a good page-turning pace. The only regret I had is knowing the eventual fate of Mary Queen of Scots!

© Ellen Hill

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Metadate 2

When thinking about the metadata for your book, don't skimp on detail: include all that is necessary - your book's title, subtitle, contributors, your own name, all the normal stuff.

Then we’re off into the realms of category and classification. Amazon gives me 7 keyword slots to fill in and I try to use every single one of them. Firstly I tagged my books as romance, then added historical romance and thought I’d done well; then discovered I should be more specific; not just “romance,” but "adult steampunk fantasy romance." (Not that I ever wrote anything to fit that classification!)
Instead of "historical" something more like "late Victorian Underworld zombie mash-up" seems to be the way to go.

If you don’t feel inspired, type a couple of keywords into Amazon and see what other authors use. Amazon even offers advice and recommends keywords for certain sub-categories. I was aware that BISAC Subject Codes existed – after all, I was a librarian! – but I’d never thought of using them in my self-publishing. BISAC Subject Headings categorize books by content so why not check them and see if their headings inspire you? 

Think about including important story elements such as the occupation of your protagonist, the time period and place in which your book is set. Does it include any specific historic event? If so, work that in.

If you quote reviews in your book description, ask the reviewer if you may include a keyword. He may have written "Best thriller I have ever read!" but "best post-apocalyptic thriller I have ever read!" is even better.

Make excerpts from your book available where you can.

Provide links to your website and social media pages where allowed.

Add your author location if you want to appeal to your local audience.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018


For a long time after I first self-published, I had no idea what Metadata might be.  Then one day I fell across something on the internet that made me feel I had to find out more about this strange sounding word. 
That is when I discovered that Metadata is the information that makes your book searchable. Or put it another way – potential readers can find your book by the Metadata you provide - such as the author name, the category, price, ISBN and title. Enhanced metadata include author bios, blurbs, review quotes and more.
If you are an indie author you will have to list Metadata at every place you publish your book – Nook, Kobo, Amazon etc. Like me, you may not have realised this is what you were doing!
It was about this time that I ran into another puzzle. What was SEO all about? It stands for search engine optimization and guess what? Metadata is the information that search engines look for when someone searches for a book. The advice was to create metadata that fitted my book and matched my target audience. Author name etc was not a problem, I could supply that sort of factual info with ease, but Keywords and Categories proved a different thing altogether. 
My next problem was which Keywords and Categories to choose. Sounds simple, but I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right even now. In my next post I shall run through some of the good advice I’ve discovered.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A final word on Blurbs

You Should:
See if you can get some Quotes from well-known authors. Some  will refuse you, but if one responds it will be worth it. The same applies to famous people reviewing your book because you can add their quotes to your book description. Quoting individual authors instead of publications will give you a much better click-through rate and that is what you want.

If you have won awards for your writing including that too.

Pick the best 5-star review and add that to your description.

You Should Not:-

Never give away the end of the story. In fact, be sparing in your actual description; make the reader curious, but be sure not to give away too much plot.  Avoid clich├ęs and overused phrases like "in a world of..." which always makes me want to add the words "Myth and Magic"....because I heard it so many times while watching Merlin on tv.

Comparing yourself with other author can raise the wrong expectations with your readers. It is not very wise to call  yourself the "new Stephen King" or advertise your book as the 
"next Fifty Shades of Grey." 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Blurbs - the professional way

Further advice on blurb writing - gleaned from various sources: 

Guessing what will work with your readers might do the trick, but actual data might be better. There are various ways and means of accessing data.

Services like Manybooks allow you to test two different descriptions for your book to see which one gets the most downloads. Or you could send different version of your blurb to reviewers and see which version gets you the most responses. Though why reviewers would be bothered to do this beats me.

 Create a poll on your blog or website and ask people to tell you which version they prefer. That might get better results and might be something I would try.

Run Facebook ads simultaneously with different “pick-up lines” in your ad description  and see which ones get the most clicks - though I have doubts about this. Surely the first option will get the most responses? I wouldn't click on five versions of the same thing, and I don't think many people would.
 Providers like Constant ContactGetResponse or AWeber will send your proposed blurbs to your subscribers to see which they prefer. Seems to me that I could set up an e-mail people would click without going to a company which no doubt will charge for doing this for you.

Most of this sounds like something I would not do, but I would send a blurb to a group in which I participate and ask for comments. Usually, the comments all seem to cancel each other out initially, but there is often a clear "winner" and that's the one I would go for.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Writing Blurbs part 2

My research on writing blurbs has gleaned the following hints and tips which I include here to help me when next I come to write a blurb :

To put it simply, start with a situation, introduce a problem and promise a twist. So easy! Show the mood of the story  if you can (and you should be able to do that!) Don't make a romance sound like a thriller - unless it is a thriller with a romance element!

Your first sentence may be the only one read by a potential reader, so aim for the biggest impact in that first sentence. 
Keep it short for the same reason.Make an impact with 100 words - 150 maximum. Also remember that short sentences grab attention. Try using white spacing to separate thoughts, break up blocks of text. 

Introduce your characters by name and characterization: ie actor Steel Collins, murderer Joan Pellow. The trick is to make what you say memorable and stir the readers' curiosity

Add the place and time of your story ie "From his floating island home in medieval France, the wizard....”

Once you have a blurb, print it out to look at in a different format. View it on your phone, ipad, etc etc.

Plan to take your time with it. Begin with a short summary. Write your first version. Read and trim. Try different versions; do at least five and see how they strike you when you look back at your work a few days later. If you start writing your blurb before you finish writing your book, you will have plenty of time for adjustments to the blurb! So start early in the writing process.

The pic of Perigeaux has nothing to do with writing blurbs, but reminds me of a lovely hot day in France - I need it on the wet, dank, miserable rainy day!

Saturday, 7 April 2018


Do you have trouble writing blurbs? I find them almost as difficult as writing a synopsis, so I’m reading around the topic this week. After all, a good blurb should equal good sales and we all want those. Here are some preliminary findings:-
Browsing bestsellers may not be a good idea, as the author’s name already sells the book, so the blurb may not be so terrific; browsing lesser-known but successful authors is a better idea.
A good blurb aims to show the genre (the title and cover should also do this) and entice the reader to look inside.
Highly effective blurbs are CONCISE and arouse the buyer’s CURIOSITY. It is a mistake to think a blurb is a summary, for a summary gives the plot away and answers curiosity. An effective blurb creates questions in the potential readers’ mind.
The Blurb and the Look Inside feature don’t have long to impress anyone, so use some of your best writing in both.
Other vital things to do - Check that your blurb flows well. Spellcheck it. Match your vocabulary to your target audience, because words they don’t understand can scare them away. Research your subject. Ask for opinions on your blurb - this can help you generate buzz before you publish.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Successful authors

Top selling authors on Kindle of all time:

EL James
Lee Child
Stieg Larsson
Suzanne Collins
George RR Martin
Gillian Flynn
Diane Chamberlain
James Patterson
Peter James
Sylvia Day

I saw this on the internet this morning and forgot to copy the reference, but I had simply followed a link on sucessful authors and up it came. There was also a list of the cities in England that read the most and surprisingly London was not included. Nor was Newcastle, I have to admit!

 There are two authors listedthat I have never heard of - Chamberlain and Day. We all know the infamous, possibly notorious, E L James and the other names I know though they may not be among my favourite authors. I could not  hack my way through GAME OF THRONES, and Peter James is good but a little longwinded for me. I read him when I've nothing else handy! (Sorry Peter!)  Stig Larsson could have done with a good edit, especially in the first half of the first book, but that is only my opinion and what do I know? I'm not even in the list!.

I've read all of Lee Child's bar ECHO BURNING and the MIDNIGHT LINE, which will be remedied shortly.What interests me might be the names that are not there - Rankin, Gregory, Gabaldon, Bolton and Nora Roberts to name one or two. Are their books not available in Kindle? I've never checked. If they are, I suspect they are as highly priced as the paperbacks. In the last month or two I have noticed Kindle versions that are priced higher than the paperback and those I'm never going to buy and I hope no one else does either. An author I enjoy is Peter May, another is Robert Goddard, I tried Julian Fellowes BELGRAVIA earlier this year but found the writing rather sketchy; perhaps he is more of a screenwriter than a novelist and there, he excels.

Since it is sleety-snowing here today I've added a grey snowy day picture! 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Rebus fan

I'm a Rebus fan. Not an Ian Rankin fan, but a Rebus fan. Mostly that's because I see Kenn Stott and the actress who plays Siobhan Clarke as I read the pages. I always think she looks far too gentle to be a police detective, and she always surprises me. I found this  piece on Ian Rankin's website and hope he won't mind if I put it on here as a sort of promo for him. It is a lovely reminder of how he started. It is also a wonderful description of the character, which is useful for me. I have a number of Rankin's books on my shelves. I even have some in paperback and one or two in Kindle. Duplication. Sigh. It shouldn't happen to an ex-librarian, should it?

Here's the excerpt:

It’s happened. An idea for a novel that started as one situation and has blossomed into a whole plot. I’ve not written any of it yet, but it’s all there in my head from page one to circa page 250’ (Ian writing in his diary 19th March 1985)

The character of Detective John Rebus – complete with estranged wife, young daughter and fragile sanity – seemed to spring fully formed from young English Literature graduate Ian Rankin as he sat in his bedsit in Arden Street, Edinburgh in March 1985. The book’s title Knots & Crosses came first, with the detective’s name coming out of that ‘picture puzzle’ of knotted rope and matchstick crosses of the title. Oxford had ‘Morse’ – a code, so Edinburgh would have ‘Rebus’ – a puzzle.

Knots & Crosses was not intended to grow into a series. In the first draft Rebus died at the end: but during the editing process Rankin decided to give him a reprieve. This was just as well, as when sales of standalone novels Watchman and Westwind were slow, his publisher suggested he revive the detective, who reappeared in Hide & Seek.

The word ‘curmudgeon’ could have been invented for Rebus. The flawed but humane detective we first meet in Knots & Crosses when he’s aged 40 is pretty much the character we see even in the most recent books when Rebus flirts with retirement before returning to the police force when the rules change. Rebus is a professional misanthrope made more cynical by the job he does. He delights in flouting authority; he smokes and drinks; he doesn’t play by the rules. He is the ultimate maverick cop who prefers ‘old-school’ graft to new-fangled modern-day policing methods. He’s a flawed, pessimistic, multi-layered character, a troubled, brooding soul and a cynical loner who can find no solace in faith, who’s obsessed with work, and happiest when propping up the bar of his favourite pub, The Oxford Bar, a glass of IPA in his hand.

The older Rebus has a bit more flesh on the bones – both literally and metaphorically; he is a little more disillusioned, and fighting a few more demons – and not quoting quite so much Walt Whitman or Dostoevsky.

The Rebus novels are written in real time, so Rebus ages along with each book. As the series progresses we learn more about him. Born in 1947, Rebus grew up in Cardenden, Fife, with his brother Michael, the sons of a stage hypnotist and grandsons of a Polish immigrant. Rebus left school at aged 15 to join the army whilst his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Rebus served in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, before being selected for the SAS in 1971 where he excelled in training but he left the army shortly afterwards, which brought on a nervous breakdown. Following lobbying from the army, Rebus joined the Lothian and Borders Police in 1973. Rebus has been married, but divorced sometime in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Rhona, and his daughter, Samantha, appear frequently in the early novels.

We first meet Rebus in 1987 in Knots & Crosses when he is a Detective Sergeant working on the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, a serial killer who had been abducting and strangling young girls. He is based at the (fictional) Waverley Road police station where he receives anonymous letters containing knotted rope and matchstick crosses…


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

We're doomed

I read that there are novels branded as “up lit” by publishers. Upbeat novels of kindness and compassion are making their mark on bestseller lists. I hadn’t heard of them until today, but it seems they have been around for around two years or so.

Novels filled with tenderness, companionship and nostalgia are said by some to be nothing more than wish fulfilment: reading of the society people wish we had rather than the devastation, cruelty and hardship of the world we do have. Comfort reading in other words; possibly a match for comfort eating which may be a cause of so much obesity these days.

“Up lit” is maybe a way of trying to fix what is broken in our fragmenting society. When everything is dark readers have often turned to fiction as an escape. Once escapist fiction was crime, romance and science fiction; now it seems to be novels of kindness that infiltrate the bestseller lists because they offer hope. Maybe the "do-gooders" of the world hope some of the goodness will rub off on society in general, but I doubt it. Society in general doesn't read, it watches film and tv and the internet. What does it get there? Violence, much of it mindless, diversive interviews as channels vie for ratings and often, viciousness in social media.

 "We're doomed, laddie," as the character in Dad's Army used to cry.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Further thoughts on Kindle Create

One of the things that worried me about Kindle Create was how it was actually published, because nowhere in the KC software was there any mention of book covers. I was wary of pressing the Publish button in case I did something that would screw up the whole project.
After I read the cryptic sentence for the tenth time, a light bulb moment occurred: the software transfers the ms into a specific file that can then be loaded into the Kindle  Direct Publishing package that I've used before.

Once I realised that it was easy, but I wish they had made it more clear!

Final checks to be made, price to be decided, blurb polished and keywords decided. Then I can final press the Publish button.

This is my cover. Depending how swiftly KDP works, publication day will be Sunday, or perhaps, if they're a little slow, Monday 19th March 2018.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


The new software from Amazon that allows publication of an e-book is called Kindle Create. I've been exploring it with a view to publishing my next book, which is due in a few days. I'd love to give an official date of publication, but sod's law says I won't stick to it, so I'll just say it is very close.

 At first glance the software seems beautfully simple, and in many ways, it is.

There is a choice of four themes to suit different genres - Classic, Amour, etc.  They aren't exactly startling, but it means the software will modify the entire text for you to that style. It will seek out paragraphs, breaks, headings etc and deal with them for you, according to the style you've chosen. You can be certain they will all be consistent. 
The software will do the Table of Contents for you, too. 
If you have any links, the software will hold them but once you try to modify them they vanish.

My needs are simple as I have no illustrations, graphics or lists to incorporate. It is a plain novel, and the software seems to suit me well so far. One draw back I've noted is that though you can edit the text in Kindle Create, it - obviously when you think about it - doesn't make the change in your original Word document, so you could end up with no final copy of your ms. 
If I had made all my editing changes on the Word document, I would have been further on by now. I had about three goes at editing on Kindle Create before the penny fnally dropped. Now I'm back to doing a final, final, final edit on Word, so in a sense I've wasted all the time I spent each time making the style changes. Next time I'll know better!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Historical fact and historical fiction

There are two or three very well-known authors I can think of (and many more whose names don’t spring to mind right now!) who write what I call historical biographies. 

They select a known person from history and write as if they were them, or knew them; in other words, they write dialogue for them, tell us their thoughts, their emotions as well as the major points of their lives. This is fine, and I read a lot of them. But writing fiction about well-known  and well documented figures and events is one thing; writing about characters who once existed about whom little is known is problematical.

Readers ask me if the main character in my book Alba is Mine is really MacBeth. Well, the answer is partly yes and partly no; MacBeth started it all. Or rather, Shakespeare did when he made him a short reign villain when in actual fact he reigned successfully for seventeen years. 

I wanted to know more, but could regrettably find very little about the real MacBeth. Dunnett researched him for five years before she wrote King Hereafter and as a successful historical novelist she had access to all sorts of information sources that I, with nothing to my name, did not. So I contented myself with imagining a time period and its culture, clothes, poetry and weapons, added one or two historical characters and then leapt off into the realms of pure fiction, by which I mean I simply imagined everything.

Knowing how much was my imagination, I couldn’t bring myself to call my hero MacBeth, so I called him Finlay mac Ruaidhri, which wasn’t so far removed from the name most family trees gave his step-father. Dunnett’s conclusion was that MacBeth and Earl Thorfinn were one and the same person; Thorfinn was his Orkney name, and MacBeth his Christian name, but I made Thorfinn and Finlay half-brothers sharing the same mother. Since I was writing fiction I shamelessly telescoped events so that the book covers less than a year in the life of my hero – but it is a very eventful year!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Early Dublin, Dubhlinn, Dyflinn

Dublin grew up over a 1,000 years ago at the lowest crossing point on the Liffey. The river was wide, shallow, endured high tides reaching far inland as well as flash flooding, and the river mouth was plagued with shifting sandbars. People began to settle on the east-west ridge south of the Liffey in two communities. First to establish itself was Ath Cliath, a trading settlement and then the partly ecclesiastical centre named Dubhlinn for the black pool above which it stood; both were certainly present before the early seventh century though no one can say for sure exactly when the settlements first appeared.

The annals say the Vikings arrived in AD 841 and settled at Dubhlinn, and gave the name their own twist, rendering it as Dyflinn and one or two other variants which very much depended on the spelling powers of the recorder. They moved toward Ath Cliath by AD 900 possibly because the four major highways (defined as a road on which two chariots could pass one another) converged on the town, which would certainly have enhanced Viking trade. The name Ath Cliath means “a ford of hurdle-work,” so presumably it was also right on the crossing point. The river was said to be 300 metres wide at high tide with the ford only passable at low tide and then by a walkway constructed of slippery saplings woven into a mesh and fixed on piles of some kind.

The ninth century Viking longphort (a naval encampment) became a tenth century dun or castle. Across the River Poddle which sweeps around the base of Dyflinn, stood the assembly place called the Thingmot, anglicised as Thingmount, a flat-topped mound where Norse assemblies were held. Nearby are the burial mounds of the Scandinavian kings, known in Old Norse as haugr or haugar and believed to form the basis of the medieval name Hogges or Hoggen green. (I’m rather inclined to believe the name might have something to do with pigs, but what do I know?)

Three hundred metres to the north-east stands the Long Stone, which commemorates either the first landing place, or the re-taking of Dyflinn after one of the Hiberno-Norse battles, or both. One map shows the Long Stone on a small island but as a bridge was built, the quays were dug out, silting up of the river changed the shoreline; the Long Stone appeared to move inland. Amlaib or Olafr Cuaran, father of Sitric Silkenbeard, is given credit for colonising Dyflinn and building the defensive embankments along Wood Quay against the warring Irish. Sitric continued the expansion of the town.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Psychic Distance.

Dunvegan, Skye
I found a new writing term today. Psychic Distance. I discovered it in Emma Darwin's blog - This Itch of Writing.  I've been been re-writing Dark Pool into  VIKING SUMMER over the last couple of months, and since reading her blog I now know I've been playing around with psychic distance for one of my characters!

I got to 25 in my first edit and decided my heroine wasn't coming through clearly enough. Things happened to her, but there was no sign of how she felt about it all. Big mistake! (The original story was written  over twelve years ago when I hadn't been very long published!)

After thinking for a while I decided to concentrate on my heroine. After all, it was her story, and not Finlay of Alba's tale, though he was quite important. Making her my POV figure, using first person for her and third person for anyone else, would focus attention on her and get me closer to her. I sighed, because it meant a lot of work.  I was working on chapter 25 when I made this decision, and then had to go back to the beginning and re-draft each of her scenes, but it certainly got me thinking as if I were in her shoes. Her sometimes snippety voice started coming through and I liked that. (Perhaps I have a snippety voice too?) As Ms Darwin's blog says

"The closer-in we are to that character's consciousness, the more the scene and how it's narrated is coloured and shaped by that character's personality."
So the second draft concentrated on altering my heroines scenes. I also discovered something else I had to change. There was a dramatic incident, very important to the tale, and I had reported  it from two character perspectives and thus reduced the impact of said incident. 
I decided the incident should be with my heroine; I incorporated some of the description of the second character's discovery into her scene,  and omitted the rest. That made it much more her discovery and gave it more impact. Odd how these things leap out and demand to be changed. 
Technically then, I am on a third draft now and closing in rapidly on the magic words - the End.